Ambridge Borough officials are delaying the release of public documents that could help answer lingering questions about an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment made by female officers against the town’s police chief.
The Ambridge Police Department Bargaining Unit distributed a press release on Jan. 14 announcing officers in the municipality had issued a unanimous vote of no-confidence in the town’s council members, manager, solicitor, and suspended chief of police.
The release revealed that two female officers in the department had submitted sexual harassment complaints against Chief James Mann in early 2018.
In April 2018, BeaverCountian.com reported that more than a dozen Ambridge officers went to Pennsylvania State Police with wide-ranging allegations against Mann. The borough responded by hiring Corporate Security and Investigation (CSI) to investigate the department.
In their Jan. 2019 release, the officers allege they were provided information that CSI’s report about Mann was completed last July and “that the report is some eighty pages in length and recommends Mann’s termination.”
The personnel investigation into Mann has been a repeated subject of inquiry by members of the public during borough council meetings since that time, with Solicitor Richard Start insisting the report has not been completed. Start has refused to provide any additional information to citizens of the community.
No disciplinary action has been taken against Mann in response to the allegations of sexual harassment against him. He remains on an unpaid administrative leave following his Aug. 23 arrest by the Pennsylvania State Police on unrelated charges.
Attorney Stephen Colafella, who is representing Mann, has said his client will not be providing public comment about the sexual harassment allegations.
In an attempt to find answers for the citizens of Ambridge, BeaverCountian.com submitted a formal open records request to the borough on Feb. 1 in accordance with provisions of the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law.
Although the borough could have invoked one of several innumerate exceptions in the law to refuse the report’s release, if it exists, the request instead sought to determine if such a report has been paid for with tax dollars. A request was made for copies of invoices submitted to the borough for payment by Start, his law firm, and CSI Corporate Security and Investigations.
Invoices often detail stages of completion for a work product, and could reveal whether a final deliverable — the investigative report — has been provided to the municipality.
By statute, the borough had five business days to respond to the request. Borough Manager Joseph Kauer, who also serves as the town’s open records officer, waited the entirety of those five days before issuing a letter to BeaverCountian.com on Feb. 8 invoking an additional 30 day delay — the maximum extension of time allowed by law.
Kauer’s letter stated that a legal review was needed to determine whether some of the records are subject to public release, and that some of the records may be redacted before being viewed by the public.
BeaverCountian.com will see the public’s rights under state transparency laws are upheld, and if necessary will take further action to gain access to the public records.
Ambridge Borough Council’s next public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. in the borough building.